Born in 1922 in Derechin, Poland, Jewish teenager Gertrude Boyarski enjoyed a normal life with her family-until the German’s invaded. They were then incarcerated in the local ghetto-until on July 24, 1942, the Nazis began a massacre of 3000 Jews. Gertrude’s family, who lived close to the entrance, managed to escape and join partisans in the forest.
But the resistance took their toll and over the next few months, Gertrude watched as every member of her family died before her eyes while resisting the Nazis. Alone, Gertrude went to look for a group that would take on a female combatant. She finally met with a Russian partisan group who were willing to do so. The commanding officer was initially unwilling to take on a woman but when Gertrude told him: “I want to fight and take revenge for my whole family,” he agreed to test her resolve.
Gertrude was left alone on guard duty for two weeks. Situated in the forest a mile from the partisans’ camp, she had nothing but a gun to protect her. Although afraid, she did not give in. Gertrude passed the initiation and lived and fought with the group for 3 years.
Gertrude was true to her word about her revenge. She helped burn down bridges, impeding the German movement of people and supplies. Despite being fired upon by German soldiers while firing a bridge, Gertrude and her companion helped it along by tossing pieces of the burning bridge into the river.
Gertrude married a fellow partisan after the war and moved to the United States.
Andree Borrel was always a rebel. Born in the working-class Paris suburbs in 1919, she had enjoyed boisterous, outdoor activities. But after the German invasion of France, her courage really came into its own.
Andree initially trained as a nurse’s aid. But she used her work as a cover for transporting allied airmen, agents and escaping Jews along an underground railway to Spain. When the network was discovered in 1940, Andree fled to Portugal and then onto England where she volunteered for the SOE.
In 1942, she was one of the first female agents parachuted into France to spy. After making her way to Paris, Andree joined the local resistance network where she was tasked to deliver messages and train and organize members. So impressive was she that by March 1943, 24-year-old Andree was its second in command. In the following month, the group committed 63 acts of sabotage, derailing trains and killing 43 Germans.
Andree was caught on the June 23, 1943 when she and 3 other members were found attacking a power station. Interrogation did not break her. So, one month before D-day, Andree and three other female spies were shipped off to the Natzeiler-Struthof concentration camp.
Natzeiler-Struthof was an all male camp and the only concentration camp on French soil. Andree and her companions were sent there so they would disappear without a trace- part of the ‘Nacht und Nabel” (night and fog) directive. But some of the male prisoners witnessed their arrival. One Brian Townhouse, an artist, knew Andree personally and recognized her at once.
Andree and the other female agents were immediately given a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Andree was pronounced dead and her body stripped for cremation.
But the injection had not killed her. Just before she was placed in the oven, she regained consciousness and attempted to fight off the doctors. They eventually overpowered her-and cremated her alive.
Maria Krystyna Skarbek was born in Warsaw in 1908, the daughter of a polish count and the daughter of a wealthy Jewish banker. Her family had a long and distinguished history of service to Poland. This was deeply instilled in Krystyna-and during the war she was able to carry on in the tradition of her aristocratic ancestors.
Krystyna and her husband were living in Africa at the outbreak of war. They swiftly decamped to Britain in an attempt to join the war effort. Krystyna was accepted as a spy for the British and sent back to Poland via neutral Hungary. This involved her crossing the freezing Tatra Mountains.
Once in Poland, Krystyna contacted important agents and resistance movements to lay the ground work for her reconnaissance work for the British. She also smuggled polish airmen to neutral Yugoslavia.
In 1941, she was captured. Quick thinking Krystyna bit her tongue to make it bleed, before coughing and pretending to bring up blood. She told her captors she had TB. They x rayed her. Scars on her lungs, the result of emissions in an auto shop she had once worked above, backed up her claim. Convinced she was too seriously ill to take part in resistance activities, Krystyna was freed. She escaped to England-but returned to southern France in 1944.
Such was Krystyna’s fame, she was apparently the inspiration for the character of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royal. Yet after the war, she sank into deliberate obscurity. Granted British Citizenship, she drifted through a series of mundane jobs- until she made the headlines again when a colleague on the cruise ship she was working on stabbed her to death in 1952.